Characters are an essential component to every story. No matter what age range a story is aimed at or what genre it is in, characters are often the most defining feature in books, movies, plays and other media that audiences most remember. Some characters can come across as so vivid and life-like that it is hard to believe that they are not actually real people. Contrarily, other characters are either one-dimensional or fantastical; obvious creations from a writer’s lucid imagination.
Although characters are as varied as the stories that they come from, many have the ability to both entertain and educate audiences—especially young audiences. For this reason some characters and television shows—like “Dora the Explorer”—have become award-winning emblems of early education. As long as a child can feel an emotional connection with a character then they can learn from that character much like they learn from their family members and friends. Some characters have been designed to teach children a specific lessons (such as how to prevent forest fires or count to ten) while other characters teach informal lessons through example, such as Elmo’s representation of innocence and love.
Characters are timeless and so even ones that have been around for centuries, such as the characters in fairy tales, can still be beloved by children in the modern day. Furthermore, creative people are always thinking up new concepts for media containing new characters that aim to entertain and sometimes even teach.
Below is a list of five famous characters that have made a mark in the hearts and memories of most people.
Smokey the Bear
Smokey the Bear is one of the most recognizable figures in the history of children’s educational media. Smokey was created in 1944 as a means of educating children about the dangers of forest fires and ways to prevent such fires. Smokey was presented as a mascot of parks; he is a bear which is fitting because bears inhabit many parks in the United States and he dresses in Park Ranger attire to convey his “protect the parks” message. Smokey produced a huge amount of merchandise materiel such as plush toys, coloring books, and stories and this made him one of the most recognizable and beloved fictional characters in America. Throughout the 1950s Smokey’s popularity boomed and his charm has still not worn away. Now, nearly 70 years after his creation, Smokey maintains his status as an Entertainment-Education icon. Americans of mostly any age can see a depiction of Smokey and know who he is.
Elmo is a lovable red monster who has become one of the most popular and beloved features of the long-running television show “Sesame Street.” Elmo is a Muppet who is supposed to be around three years of age. He is kind and curious and excitable and all about love. Although the Elmo Muppet was in existence since the early 1970s, the personality that is known as “Elmo” by present standards was not formed until 1984 when puppeteer Kevin Clash started working with it. Elmo became an instant success and soon his popularity grew to rival that of Big Bird, Oscar, Ernie and Bert and even Kermit (who occasionally appeared on “Sesame Street” as well as “The Muppets Show”)! Elmo had produced a lot of merchandise around him including award-winning and record breaking toys and games. The 1996 toy “Tickle Me Elmo” was regarded as being the most desired toy of that Christmas season!
Dora the Explorer
“Dora the Explorer” is a perfect example of a children’s program that mixes education with multiculturalism and themes of girl power. Since its launch in 2000, Dora the Explorer has become a roaring success with audiences of all ages. People love the themes of adventure in the show that make the plots and settings constantly changing and engaging for viewers. Furthermore, Dora is represented as a Latina girl and she speaks to the audience in both Spanish and English which helps small children gain an understanding of both dialects. As the United States sees a rapid influx of Spanish-speaking populations it is becoming a necessity to learn Spanish and understand it from a young age so the show is very useful. Additionally, the show is appealing to both genders despite the fact that it’s lead character is a female—a trend that had not been seen in many shows prior.
Mickey Mouse is arguably the most famous cartoon character in the world. Since his first cartoon titled “Steamboat Willie” was presented to the public in 1928, Mickey Mouse has skyrocketed to extreme and global fame. His name and image are known to practically everyone on earth and he has produced more merchandising opportunities than any other brand in the world. Walt Disney became so popular and successful as a result of his film work—driven largely by Mickey Mouse—that he was able to open several theme parks. Presently, the Orlando Florida based “Magic Kingdom” is the most visited theme park in the entire world with millions of people coming through its doors annually. Although Mickey’s appearance has changed over the years and he has gained more of a vocabulary, he still strives to be entertaining in a way that is appropriate for young children to model behavior after.
Spongebob Squarepants is one of the greatest cartoon success stories in history. Surreal and hilarious, the show is enjoyed by a vast age group ranging from very small children to grown adults. Spongebob Squarepants aired in 1999 and its oddball underwater setting and outlandish characters soon caught audience’s attentions. SpongeBob is meant to be purely entertaining—and some have even argued that the show can lower the IQs of viewers—but it has managed to teach some lessons (abet unintentionally). For example, in 2010 a 12 year old girl from Long Island saved her choking friends life after she learned how to help people who are choking from watching Spongebob Squarepants. Although gaining this knowledge was totally unintentional, it still helped her to save her friend’s life and thus proves that even purely entertaining characters can work certain real-life facts into their storylines. Furthermore, SpongeBbob is endlessly cheerful and upbeat and for those reasons alone he makes a delightful cartoon character and a solid role model.